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Niall Ferguson won an Emmy in 2009. He also has some pretty funny lines about capitalism.
Niall Ferguson is an extremely well-known and at times extremely controversial historian of finance, money, and imperialism. Born in Scotland, he now operates from a perch at Harvard. He's not afraid to tangle. And he's not afraid to be funny, something you have to concede no matter what you think of his conservative (some would say reactionary) politics.
I'd never seen him in action until yesterday, when at the Milken Institute Global Conference taking place this week in L.A. I caught him participating in a panel with the modest title of "The Future of Capitalism."
Prof. Ferguson outlined three varieties of existing capitalism: the old-school version we all know so well; a very new state-sponsored variation (see: China); and "cheese-eating" capitalism.
Ferguson enjoyed pronouncing those last few words. The cheese-eaters come from where you think they would: Europe. Social democrat-flavored Europe. Your socialist candidate for president of France, François Hollande, is a pretty solid example of Ferguson's cheese-eater. Hollande probably enjoys his cheese, so it's hardly a leap.
Here's a quick primer on the difference between "Keynesians," who want to spend money to get the economy going, and "austerians" (a little play of words of "Austrians," an anti-Keynesian school of economics), who insist that we need to cut back, belt-tighten, and stop racking up debt. In the video, Henry Blodget of Business Insider sits down with Niall Ferguson, a Harvard professor and historian who hasn't just taken up a strongly anti-Keynesian stance since the financial crisis but has also argued that America's about to go down the imperial drain, and fast.
Ferguson's performance is masterful in its bet-hedging. For example, he wants to find a ceiling for U.S. borrowing — but the debate we had earlier this year about...the ceiling for U.S. borrowing displeased him.
Anyway, you get the idea. He's not in agreement with New York Times columnist and Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman. Krugman and Ferguson have actually knocked heads at the same event, with Ferguson repeating his argument that markers for U.S. debt are OK "until they aren't," maintaining that the big risk for the USA is a loss of investor confidence. Krugman, for his part, insists that the multi-billion post-financial-crisis stimulus bill wasn't big enough.